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Augusto Pinochet: the tyrant who served the system

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Chilean socialist Mario Nain was thrown in prison when Augusto Pinochet took power in his 1973 coup. He writes on the welcome death of a dictator
Issue 2031
Chileans celebrate Pinochet’s death. The placard reads “change of command in hell”.
Chileans celebrate Pinochet’s death. The placard reads “change of command in hell”.

Within a few minutes of the announcement that the hated tyrant Pinochet was dead, thousands of Chilean people took to the streets to celebrate.

The mood of my brothers and sisters in Chile, and millions of others across the world, was one of joy mixed with fury. Fury because the rich and powerful in Chile and internationally protected this tyrant to the very end.

Consequently, Pinochet never faced trial for the crimes that his regime committed during 17 years of iron rule from 1973 to 1990. On behalf of his class, he was the chief architect of one of Latin America’s most brutal military juntas.

He unleashed a ferocious and murderous war – directed against Chile’s revolutionary movement. The country had seen astonishing levels of self-organisation of workers during the class struggles of 1970-3.

When Pinochet toppled Salvador Allende, the democratically elected president, he also took revenge on those who had created, from below, the embryo of workers’ power.

Thousands of our best fighters perished. Countless were imprisoned and suffered the most barbarous physical and mental torture in concentration camps across the country. More than 3,000 were “disappeared”.

The new regime dissolved parliament. It banned trade unions, strikes and political parties. It imposed the most extreme form of neoliberal economics – turning Chile into a laboratory for the monetarist theories of Milton Friedman.

Similar economic policies were later taken up by Margaret Thatcher in Britain and Ronald Reagan in the US.

Was Pinochet simply a murderous psychopath? Or was he a coldly rational member of the ruling class who consciously intervened in the class struggle in Chile?

Of course, the answer is the latter. The Pinochet regime waged a relentless war against the working class and the left in Chile precisely because he was defending the power and economic interests of the Chilean ruling class and the multinational corporations.

Today, in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, powerful revolutionary movements have once more taken to the stage of history.

In the course of the struggle, these movements may face the same political conjuncture as the Chilean revolution did. This could lead to one of two outcomes – a full socialist revolution or a savage counter-revolution.

Many Pinochets are lurking in the shadows of these countries. They plan, plot and wait. The only weapon that our side possesses is our collective power.

We must build and strengthen workers’ and peasants’ committees and revolutionary organisations, with the slogan “all power to the working class and its allies”.

The horror of dictatorship

‘The US Committee for Justice to Latin American Political Prisoners has just published a briefing on an almost unknown aspect of the junta’s brutality – the torture of women political prisoners…

The report states, “The prisoners are so badly treated that the sadists have a recuperation camp where the prisoners are taken if they are to be handed over to a more permanent and therefore public jail, or be brought back to be tortured afresh.

“These young women have horrible vaginal infections, at least three are pregnant, naturally not knowing by whom, having been raped innumerable times…they have asked desperately to be allowed to have an abortion….

“In a place near Chena they were blindfolded and mass tortured… Girls finally came to jail from these places with their hair pulled off in handfuls, their nipples blown off or burnt, their genitals destroyed by electricity. There are more than 200 such torture and detention camps…”

This is the real face of the “new order” in Chile, which Tory politicians support and the Labour government supplies with frigates.’

Socialist Worker, 29 June 1974

Solidarity that gave hope

‘Shop stewards at Rolls Royce, East Kilbride, have found out that they are repairing eight engines for Hawker Hunter aircraft for delivery to the bloodthirsty junta in Chile.

These were the same planes used by the junta for bombing the palace of elected president Allende last September. As soon as the stewards found out about the engines, all work on them stopped.’

Socialist Worker, 27 April 1974

Chilean political prisoners later told how the news of the workers’ action gave them hope.

‘Following the AUEW [engineering union] executive’s support for the blacking of arms for Chile, groups of workers have stopped work on military contracts for the junta…

Engineers in Yarrow shipyard on Clydeside walked off the frigate Lynch…

The only time frigates have been used was when they bombarded the port of Valparaiso [during the coup]. The ships have been used since then as prisons and floating torture chambers for trade unionists.

That is why the blacking will affect the junta. When Liverpool dockers refused to unload Chilean copper, the generals were shaken… The blacking has to be extended.’

Jimmy McCallum, a trade unionist, writes in Socialist Worker, 25 May 1974

The article was published along with a list of British companies involved in trade with Chile. It was reprinted as a leaflet and distributed nationally to spread the action.

Go to Mario Nain interviewed on the 30th anniversary of the coup: Chile 1973: the other September Eleventh

Mike Gonzalez’s pamphlet, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Chile (£1.50), is available from Bookmarks. Phone 020 7637 1848 to order.

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